Teachable Moments

On this summer’s road trip adventure, we saw many examples of teachable moments. Taking advantage of unforeseen circumstances to help others more fully understand an idea. Most National Park Service personnel are exceptional at this.

In Yellowstone there was an overly reactionary fly fisherman (O. R. F. F.), blowing up the emergency number about a supposed grizzly. Ranger Jones arrived, eased her concerns, and sent her on her way. Then he pulled a shotgun from his vehicle! He turned around to see the looks of concern on our faces, but especially on those of the many children present. He didn’t miss a beat or the opportunity. He bent down and showed us the cartridge of rubber pellets. With a smile, he explained that he was not going to kill the bear or even really hurt it much. He was re-educating the bear to stay away from people. Safer for the bear. Safer for people. And he’d taught us a great deal about wildlife management.

We’ve been to Grand Canyon NP more times than we can count. But I’d never wrapped my head around all those multicolor layers in The Canyon. Until this year. Geoscientist-In-the-Park Taylor Hartman led two of the geology workshops. She passionately used understandable symbols and comparisons to explain difficult concepts. If the entire age of Earth is your wide-open arms, the oldest rock in The Canyon formed at your left shoulder. Dinosaurs at your elbow. And humans on the last of your fingernail tip. She inspired our understanding with the smile on her face and twinkle in her eye.

Another ranger at Yellowstone stepped aside and took the time to focus on children turning in Junior Ranger booklets. She turned pages with genuine interest and asked them about their drawings and answers. She asked more difficult questions until she reached their edge of understanding. Then she’d offer a bit more explanation. Her obvious goal was the kids’ education. My children and others left her presence, sworn in and grinning with their official patch. There was no question they now knew more about this park.

Whether you’re a park ranger or not, there’s something to take away here. You can be an educator, outreach coordinator, administrator, pencil pusher or idealist. There are moments we can either pass through following the script and never engaging. Or we can awaken ourselves to the opportunities, and awaken the people around us.

I’ve seen some people do better than others. Also at Yellowstone was one curmudgeon who just went through the motions as quickly as he could. He took more time telling tourists not to post his image on the internet. pfft. But…

We can all…

  • Recognize, seize, and take advantage of the moment.
  • Explain ourselves in simple, sincere ways other people relate to.
  • Take the time to interact with the world and people around us.

Those people, this moment, and our collective understanding matter.

4 Responses to “Teachable Moments

  • David Blaisus
    8 months ago

    Nice post, Jamie. As a father I tried to consciously let my children into my life – both in the big picture and (harder), on a moment by moment basis – kind of the essence of the teachable moments you’re describing. Maybe I’d be working on a small house project and the 4 year old takes an interest. Maybe my first reaction would be to not want to be bothered, but if I pulled the kid in and described the project, talked about the tools, maybe even describe my frustration with a small problem. All these are teachable moments – and as a result my kids and I grew older and more experienced together. Over the years we worked on many projects together, spent time together, shared interests, accomplishments and frustrations all in one. In truth, we can all share teachable moments with each other if we let each other into our lives. Thanks for your thoughts, Jamie. David

    • Love the application to parenting here, David! Thanks so much for this. I’ve been trying to do the same, but I’m going to take this as an opportunity to step up my game! 🙂

  • Kristin Hedges
    8 months ago

    Nice job with the video Jamie, it succinctly captured our summer adventure of learning through these moments. I love watching you use teachable moments with the kids!

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